Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Martin Gordon: The 'Time Gentlemen Please' Inteview - Part 2

The second and final part of my exclusive interview with Martin Gordon, where we are talking about his latest album 'Time Gentlemen Please'. Part one concentrated on the whole 'Mammals' trilogy, and the making of the new album, this time round I wanted to learn something about each and every track….

Don't feel this isn't for you if you've not heard the album, as with his previous albums, Martins' songs are all comments on society and real-life happenings in the 21st Century, and his insights are very interesting (oh and of course down right hilarious too!)

Elephantasy – What on earth inspired this one? Do you really ‘like em like that’??

Oh yes. The Fatherland is the land of sausages and potatoes, as you know. A friend had to be craned out of bed recently; he was so enormous that the ambulance couldn’t get him down the stairs. Wassup, you don’t like fat people? Gotta love’em, really. And, as noted somewhere else, they can always watch your things on the beach, cos they ain’t going anywhere, are they… A friend of mine from an earlier time, who used to play bass for the Records, would only ever shag fat girls. But then he married a dwarf, I believe – there’s probably a salutary lesson in there somewhere.

(NOTE: You can have a listen to Elephantasy in all its glory in our 4th Podcast - 'Animals')

Houston We’ve Got a Drinking Problem – I googled it, and it really did happen! A couple of years back the crew of the Challenger were found to be drunk in charge of a Space Shuttle!! What was it that made you pick it for the subject of one of your songs?

Sweetie, it all happened, I don’t make any of this stuff up, do I! Every single thing on this record (and, by the way, on all the others as well) can be found out there in the ‘real’ world, if you choose to look.

I keep a notebook in which I note down interesting stories that I come across, in green ink using a quill pen, and this was one of them. I heard it on the BBC World Service. I think I came up with the title first, and then expanded the song around it. Can you believe that the flight controller who made that announcement was so out of it?

On and On – Who did you have in mind when you wrote this song about a woman with verbal diarrea??!

Oh, it’s generic, isn’t it? There is indeed a local focus to this one, but it’s pathological. Sometimes they never stop, and at all other times they just go on and on and on and on. I quote myself – ‘it’s got to stop soon, we need Ban Ki-Moon to stem this verbal tsunami’.

On a related note, my good pal Tee ‘Trevor’ White, once with the Sharks band, imagined that the name of the newly elected leader of the free world was ‘Wanky Woo’. He was most put out when I disabused him, and disabused me right back.

21st Century Blues – This slower number finally allows us to draw breath. It’s a thought-provoking song, and the first use of the ukulele on the album too, which really adds to the sound. What are your thoughts on this one?

One of my best compositions, I would say if asked. It’s a calling card. If someone asked for an example of my tune-smithery, I would play them this. And then run away.

I’m a big fan of ukulele, and of double bass. In fact, I used a double bass sample on the demo of this tune, and then tried bass guitar and then acoustic bass guitar on the recording, but neither worked as well. So I got myself an upright bass, learned how to play it again (after not having touched one for about 30 years) and then recorded it. We did this live recently in Berlin, to an audience of three storm troopers and a Rottweiler, and it seemed to go down quite well. The recording also has a brass section – mainly trombone, but so what – and this is a new colour in the sonic palette. It’s even got a flute solo, fer Chrissakes.

The sentiments are… well, germane, I feel. That’s germane, by the way, not German. For German sentiments, or perhaps more accurately anti-German, you will have to check out ‘
Only One Dream Per Person’ from Der Baboon in Der Basement.

Come Out Come Out Whoever You Are – A rather scathing song about God. It’s funny, but makes you think too.... Not a fan then??!

Not a big fan, no. But I am a big fan of Senator Ernie Chambers, who attempted to sue God in the Californian court as a terrorist, due to His threats of plagues, storms, floods, pestilence, famine, war, disco and such. A key point was the debate over whether the writ had actually been served on the defendant (namely, God).

Senator Chambers noted that he had on a number of occasions shouted out ‘Come out, come out, wherever You are’ and, as God is both omniscient and omnipotent, that should have done the trick, assuming He exists. The court accepted his reasoning, but the defendant didn’t bother showing up. Probably off somewhere smiting unbelievers.

But as I say – God… has He ever had a hit record? You see?

I Feel Fine – Is a fabulous cover version, and you’ve somehow managed to remove the Beatles feel and replace it with the Martin Gordon ‘stamp’. It must be hard to completely redesign a classic song that everyone knows?

Yes, I would like to stamp out the Beatles completely, forever. As Adrian Belew remarked to me when I interviewed him for my Zappa all-nighter on the local radio station, the Beatles completely spoiled it for everyone by being better than anyone else, either before or after. Bastards. Bastard selfish bastard Beatle bastards, if you ask me, and you did.

I tried to create an antithetical version of the tune, and I think I achieved it, in that it is completely miserable. That will teach the protagonist to piss about with females.

Oh yes, I meant to say – don’t get me confused with the protagonist in all this stuff. Just because the singer declares that he likes fat girls, it doesn’t mean that I like fat girls, in fact far from it. I just write the stuff, dear.

You’ve put at least one cover version on all of your solo albums. What others were in contention for Time Gentlemen Please?

Well, there was ‘Something in the Air’ by Thunderclap Newman, and ‘Ascension Day’ by Third World War. This last we tried, actually, but it fell at the first nuclear onslaught. I also played about a bit with ‘Walk On By’, but will say no more about it.

Did you ever hear ‘Every Little Thing She Does’ by Yes? Well groovy, daddy-o. The reasons for doing a cover, as far as I see it, is to stamp heavily upon the identity of the original artist with your own artistic boot, preferably on the throat, and then twist and grind down with the heel with a simultaneous rotating movement.


Have you ever considered a whole album of ‘Gordon-ified’ covers at all??!

If I was to imagine for a single second that anyone would be remotely interested, I might well do such a thing. But I don’t kid myself.

If Boys Could Talk and Girls Could Think – Is this your own theory on how to crack the battle of the sexes?

It’s actually more a critique of self-help books and gender stereotypes than a timely plea for peace to break out in the battle of the sexes. Frankly I couldn’t care less whether they slaughtered each other or not, to be honest, so long as they leave me out of it.

It was originally inspired by a discussion which pointed out that if people said the inane things about women that they are allowed to say about men, at least in the context of crapulous popular literature, some women would get rather upset. It seems to be acceptable to say things like ‘oh, if only men could talk’, but the reverse is a bit more difficult. Hence the title. Personally, I don’t care either way, as I said. Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke, and that applies to both sides of the gender debate.

It has a small upright bass solo at the end, for those who care for this sort of thing. (It is the solo that is small, not the upright bass, which is 3/4 size, should you be concerned).

Talulah Does The Hula From Hawaii – I think this one is the most insanely catchy track on the album. Is that a guest spot from your son at the beginning? How did that come about? Is Talulah anyone in particular?

As before, this is a true story, and you can find the details in the Guardian. My efforts are commentary rather than invention.

Talulah is from New Zealand, of Hawaiian extraction. She sounds like a brave and forthright little girl. Maybe there is some German in her heritage. She took her parents to court and won, just as the chorus tells you. I heard the story on the BBC, jotted down some notes and left the apartment. By the time I got to the end of the street, the whole thing had sprung fully-formed into my brain, so I turned round and went back home and captured it.

The Small Boy Chesta Gordon introduces the tune, and gives his comment at the end. I used to sing this to him before it was recorded, while trudging up and down the cliff at Frinton-on-Sea in Essex with him on my back, and he approved it for inclusion in the album.

Shoot the Women First – I’m hoping this isn’t a follow up if track 7 doesn’t work?! Quite a confrontational title this one!

Once again – I believe you might begin to see a bit of a picture here – this is based on a book of the same title, by the British writer Eileen MacDonald. She interviewed female terrorists about what made them tick, so to speak, and the title is quoted from the standing orders issued to governmental security services, namely their instructions to shoot female terrorists before their male counterparts. It’s a good read – she spoke to Leila Khaled, to the very spooky Astrid Proll and more.

The female of the species is more deadly than the male, suggested the Victorian DJ/rapper Rudyard Kipling. Perhaps he was not entirely wrong. I think, on the whole and after due consideration, I tend to agree with the sentiments of this song. But then I would say that, wouldn’t I.

On a personal note, the Small Boy Chesta and I were recently travelling in the UK. Sitting on a train, and rocking out to my mp3 player, he suddenly burst into a loud acappella chorus of ‘Shoot the women first, shoot the women first, shoot shoot shoot bang bang!’ much to the bemusement of our fellow travellers. ‘He’s German’, I offered feebly in explanation, moving to the other side of the carriage.

Panama – This is about ‘canoe man’ John Darwin right? Great idea for a song. What’s your take on this bizarre story?

This is one of those ‘glorious failure’ things that the British are so good at (I speak as one of them). Imagine faking your own death but forgetting that changing your name would obviously be part of the bigger picture. Your name, John, you’ve got to change your name as well! And then he put a picture of himself and his wife on the Internet identified with real names and their location. Clearly he hadn’t really thought it through.

But at least Mr Darwin was consistent – he went into a British police station at the end of this disastrous adventure and asked them if they had seen his memory, as he had lost it somewhere. They weren’t having any of it, of course.

He concealed himself in his wife’s house for a number of years before setting off to Panama. Evidently, during these ‘Hiding Years’, he would get into a cupboard whenever his children came round to see their mother. There is certainly a dark side to this silly tale. I can feel a Part II coming on…

Incognito Ergo Sum – Right up there as one of my favourite tracks you’ve ever done. Once again the tempo slows for another thought provoking song. This is all about the ‘dumbed down’ celebrity culture we have these days (certainly here in the UK). Is it like that in Germany too now? There was a time when you needed some sort of talent to become famous, but it’s really not a requirement any more… almost a hindrance. Were you thinking of anyone in particular in this song?

I think it’s the same all over the world, not that I have been everywhere in the world but the Afghani version of ‘Pop Idol’ gives you the general feeling that the clock is ticking. Karaoke for the masses disguised as real life – it’s acting, of course, but the manner in which both the contestants and the consumers willingly suspend their disbelief makes me wonder if there is any point in carrying on the Campaign for Real Reality, as most people clearly prefer the pretend version.

The song’s not aimed at anyone in particular but at everyone in general – how many pico-celebrities does the world need, for crying out loud? I’m a bit of a post-theist on this issue, in that I believe the human race can now support itself perfectly well without the need for celebrities, but I realise I am in a moribund minority.

As for the title –Latin hasn’t had much of a look in lately, so I thought I’d chuck a bit in. The tune also quotes
Julia Phillips – if you’re stuck for something to read, you could try her indictment of celebrity which she called ‘You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Ain’t Big Enough For the Both of Us Again’, or something along those lines.

What does intrigue about celebrity is the way in which the currency is domain-transferable, at least here in Germany. Thus you find winners of non-talent shows turning up as celebrity cooks, you find leading reality-TV house-decorators delivering their opinions about forthcoming elections on prime-time chat-shows, you see celebrity dentists interviewing American film stars. The domain is irrelevant, the currency retains its value regardless of location.

I Have A Chav – Possibly the most ‘Music Hall’ influences on this album, and again a very British subject. As someone who has lived in Berlin for a number of years, you obviously manage to keep abreast of the changes in British culture? I’m assuming there are no Burberry clad oiks in Berlin??

No, they wear different clothes here, but here they certainly are. In Berlin there are a few varieties – often Turkish, often East German. But here the oiks tend to be of all ages, rather than strictly a youth movement. The average Berliner would last about 15 minutes on an average British high street before being smashed to the floor and kicked to death, such is the level of his rudeness and hostility.

Yes, music hall indeed. Music hall was chock full of social commentary disguised as a knees-up, and I find this double level of meaning rather interesting, personally. Who knows, perhaps I even attain it in my work, or egg.

I manage to keep abreast of British culture, if that is the correct expression, via the BBC World Service. There’s nothing like a good shout at the radio on a Sunday morning to get the heart started, or indeed any other morning. Chav-dom is one of my favourite manifestations of British culture, and I dealt with the Boy Calum Best earlier on, in ‘
He Was the Best’. Calum delivered a heartfelt self-composed ‘pome’ on the sad occasion of the death, or dearth, of his father the foot-balling alcoholic George of that ilk. It was one of the most memorable moments of televisual (for it was broadcast worldwide) history. There will, no doubt, be more, but they will not have the impact of the Boy Calum’s unforgettable moment. Not on me, at any rate.

Interesting Times – Another interesting take on society. Tell us more about what sparked this one?

When I commented apologetically to Pelle Almgren, who sings all this stuff, that here was a tune which was a bit of a rant about someone in particular, he said ‘What do you mean, they all are….’, which rather surprised me, until I realized that he was right. I do love those people who are always right, don’t you? They have no conception that anything outside their consciousness even exists. Stick it up yer Gantt Chart, I always say. Well, often. So whereas ‘Shoot the Women’ might be construed as generalisation, I don’t think there any risk of that happening here.

Passionate About Your Elevator – A guy in love with an elevator??! Where did that come from?? As an aside, have you notice how many lifts are made by the company Schindler? You don’t think they misheard when making that film do you???

Once again, a true story, although the love angle features someone who is in love with his own linguistic abilities rather than with a lift shaft. A good pal of mine, who had better remain nameless (although eagle-eared listeners will doubtless be able to unravel the mystery) told me the story. It features a leading and well-known lift company and it’s local German MD who decided that he was suddenly possessed of the ability to compose advertising slogans in English, along with all his other skills. This was the title of the (fortunately aborted) ad campaign. I kid you not.

But he was not named Schindler. Ron Vibbentrop, perhaps?

I’m Budgie – A rant about budget airlines. I’m assuming you’ve had your fair share of problems with them?!

Yes, I love the way you are bellowed at, treated as an imbecile, forced to stand, forced to pay to pee and all the rest of the ritual humiliation. It took Stan Budney a whole day to even begin to comprehend the experience when we flew from London to Berlin for the drum recordings. Poor boy – his nerves were shattered, and he went off to Los Angeles with a porn model, never to be heard of again.

You can hear I'm Budgie right here:

































You Can’t See Me – Is an epic finale. Wonderfully moody and atmospheric (the guitar solo is very Pink Floyd-ish). It’s very different from anything on the album, and a great choice to finish with. Is it based on anyone in particular?

Well, you can hear the Small Boy Chesta at the beginning and end, once again, in a cameo appearance, and he is rather small, so that perhaps is a clue. I am reluctant to incur any more legal bills, so I will leave it at that. The children’s playground noises come from Stockholm, while we were doing the vocal in a house next to a school.

I am quite partial to a bit of Pink Floyd, meself, especially the combination of whimsy and grandeur, but they tend to do less of the former and more of the latter these days, or decades. So I thought I would attempt to create an idealised version.

Pelle made some very astute comments about the arrangement, and his views were noted. It follows his suggestions almost exactly, in fact. I’ve never done an epic, as you know – my stuff usually tends towards the short and succinct. But I crammed all the verses and choruses at the beginning, and then let the ‘epic-ness’ have it’s head. In fact, I agonised over whether the guitar solo should be acoustic or electric, after having recorded both. Eventually, I followed Chris Townson’s earlier advice – ‘it’s your record, you can do what you like!’, he wisely said - and so I used then both. But not at the same time.


So there you have it pop-pickers! I hope you enjoyed these two interview posts.... Many thanks to Martin for being such a good sport and taking considerable time out to answer all my inane questions!

If this interview has whetted your appitite for a bit more MG, then why not pop down to the legendary 100 club in London on 22nd January, where Martin is making a rare British appearence with his reformed 70's pop-punkers The Radio Stars... a few tunes from the Martin Gordon solo albums are also promised!


LINKS:

Listen to audio extract from ALL 5 of Martins albums here

The Official Martin Gordon website.

Martin Gordon on MySpace.

The 100 Club.

Buy Martin Gordon CDs at Amazon!

My 2008 interview with Martin on his 30+ year career is here and here.


Piley

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Martin Gordon: The 'Time Gentlemen Please' Inteview - Part 1

It's that time of year again, when I start looking at the silly amount of CD's I've purchased in the last 12 months, and try to weigh up my favourites. It's been a pretty good year all-in-all, but just about my favourite release of the year has to be Martin Gordon's Time Gentlemen Please.... Throughout the 'naughties', Martin has been working on his 'Mammals' trilogy (his take on mankind in the 21st Century), and Time Gentlemen Please, is the 5th and final part (!).

I've been a fan for many years, and all of the previous 4 albums are real gems that still get regular airings at Piley Towers... surely Martin couldn't match them again this time around... I was right, he couldn't... he actually topped them!! The final part of the jigsaw is without doubt the best of the five.

I asked Martin if he would share some of his thoughts on this album that has given me such pleasure this year, and he kindly agreed. The conversation was rather organic, and we ended up with quite an extensive interview. So below is part one, where we discuss the latest album and his views on the now complete trilogy as a whole....

When we spoke before I remember you saying that you literally write dozens of songs for each album, then whittle them down. How many were originally in contention for Part 5 of the ‘Mammal’ trilogy Time Gentlemen Please, and how do you go about eliminating songs?

I make them fight each other to the death. The losers are taken outside and shot in the back of the neck with a small-bore pistol, and are buried beneath the latrines, which are then demolished and concreted over. Larch trees are planted upon the spot and a Latvian farmer and his family installed, who will swear that they have been there for the last fifteen years if asked.

Oh, I see, you mean the songs. Well, I had about twenty-six, if I recall. As I begin work, some tunes start to sound weaker compared to others, and some I just fall out of love with. So they are discarded in a variety of circumstances – some in rage when returning from a night out, others with regret after weeks of work. Some are discarded right at the last minute, as on this album.

‘Adios Libido’, for example, not only had all the vocals and an amusing guitar solo but also a full brass section. But NO! I said - not good enough! and into the digital bin it went. I am nothing if not ruthless. The spoof Carlos Santana guitar solo presented all the Carlos clich├ęs simultaneously in the space of four bars, to resounding effect, but it was mercilessly chopped. All that remains of it is the ‘Adios!’ of the hidden track, when all the dust has died down. Not much to show for weeks of work, you may say, but art must triumph over mediocrity.

How long did it take to write this album, where did you record it, and how long did it take to record?

I took about a year to create the material, including being sidetracked by extra-curricular judicial affairs, and then I decided that I had critical mass enough to begin recording. That was about September 2008 and it went on until about Feb 2009, so that’s (counts on fingers) six months, on and off. First of all I made some demos, then I sent them to the various contributors and then I began recording. Vocals were done in Stockholm, with a second round in Berlin, and everything else was done in various studios here in Berlin.

I also used a brass section for the first time, which involved having to write all the brass parts out, including transpositions. That was rather nerve-wracking, but I checked them beforehand with someone who knows about that kind of stuff, and he OK’d them, and in fact they were spot on. Brass players can turn nasty, I understand, if the parts aren’t correctly written, but in the case of the Polkaholix guys, they were (east German) pussycats. There was flute as well, but everybody knows that flute players are all gaylords, so I didn’t worry about that one.

The full story is documented here, with pictures. So in total, I think about eighteen months.
What happens to all the songs that don’t make it onto an album? Are they just deemed ‘not right’ for this particular project and go back in the archives for possible use somewhere down the line, or are they permanently struck off?

They are permanently banished, never to reappear. I’m quite prolific, so I don’t need to hoard material for a rainy day, I’ll just write some more if I need it. The exception was with the ‘How Am I Doing So Far’ compilation, where I included a couple of outtakes. There must be about 15 tunes with vocals that will never see the light of day, thanks to this ludicrous and ergonomically unsound policy.
Are there any songs that you originally wrote for one album that ended up being on another?
No, all the collections take shape more or less around the same period of time, and I think that also gives the thing some continuity and coherence. But I’m quite tempted by the idea of collecting for example all the silly/music hall tunes together. But you can do that yourself, of course, on yer mp3 player, so why would I do that?

How long does it take you to write a song? Are you one of those people who can get an idea then have the whole thing finished in a few hours, or to you nurture and hone it for weeks on end?

Christ, most of the music I hear today sounds as if it’s been finished in a couple of hours. Or even minutes, while the so-called ‘composer’ was doing something much more interesting and worthwhile, like washing his or her hair, or shopping. Why do people imagine that the first idea they have is the best one? It isn’t, it’s the first one.

So mine are often lovingly polished for weeks, sometimes months. A half-diminished passing chord here, some assonance there, and an extra half bar slipped in round the back. Polishing is the right metaphor – it’s as though all possible chords are out there in the ether, and it’s just a matter of eliminating the ones that you don’t want. Or I, in this case.

I see absolutely no merit in creating something and leaving it unfinished. Would you buy a car that was designed by someone who didn’t have time to think about putting in steering wheel? Or a karaoke machine from someone who omitted to get the little red ball to bounce up and down in time to your ghastly singing? Exactly.
For this album you’ve taken the decision to also release a limited edition CD containing all the demos of the tracks. That’s an interesting idea, what made you decide to do that this time around? Is there potential for retrospective releases of demos for the previous albums too??

As you note, the demos are available as a kind of boutique, director’s cut, coffee-table limited edition for those who really want to poke about behind the scenes. It occurred to me that I would be very interested in hearing the ur-versions of tunes by my favourite composers who worked with bands to realise their ideas. So not Todd Rundgren necessarily, but Cheap Trick definitely, by way of example. Have you ever heard the Beatles rehearsing ‘Octopuses’ Garden’, for example? It’s fascinating, both as a historical artefact and as a snapshot of the process. Plus hearing the original idea and then comparing it to the finished thing is always a fascinating exercise, especially when there is a change of vocalist en route – I’m singing, if that’s the correct expression, all the demos, whereas Pelle does the job on the finished thing.

So I created the demo version CD as a kind of handcrafted individual item limited to 100 copies, which comes complete with the (signed) chord charts. Erk alors. There are less than 10 left, and then there will be no more. There are original demos of all the previous parts of the Trilogy, since you ask, but I think I will probably leave that to the good taste/motivation of my descendants to excruciate over. So far, so good. Enough, my life already.
And how do you go about writing a song in the first place? Yours are so infectious I’m guessing it must be the tune that comes first followed by the words?

In fact it’s exactly the opposite, they are driven by the words, which always are complete before I get to the tunes. So having scribbled, I sit down with the piano and off we go to the next stage. If you have the words to hand, then it’s more like the process of ‘setting’, and if you have the advantage of having written the words yourself, you can always reshape them if necessary. But it almost never is.
What instrument(s) do you use to help you compose a new song?

I tried composing on the kazoo once, but kept having to stop in order to blow my nose, so piano it is.
A poignant moment recording your first solo album without your good friend and band member Chris Townson. It must have felt very odd not having him around?

Yeah, it was a bit. Chris had been on all the Mammal things up to that point, and it was a bit thoughtless of him to die just when I wanted to get into another recording. Completely buggered my schedule up. I’ve a good mind to organise a party of obese Americans to go down to his bench in the South Downs and sit on him, in pique. That would show him.

But as events turned out, Radio Stars had just reconvened for a UK gig with (drummer) Steve Budney, and he and I came back to Berlin and spent two days in a boat, thrashing through everything. Quite stress-free, and I’m very happy with how it came out.

With Chris, I would never have to explain how anything should go, drum-wise, as we both knew it would have been pointless trying to plan anything and anyway the way it came out spontaneously was usually the most convincing way to do it. He would intuitively know what was the right thing to do. Steve did his homework, however, and with a few pointers in the studio, we got it down. I’m sure Chris would approve. Steve says that he overused one particular fill, but as nobody listens to the drums anyway, I think we can let it go. Chris gave some feedback to Steve about his (Steve’s) interpretation of Chris’ drum part on a live version of ‘The Joy of More Hogwash’, so there was some communication there, at any rate.

Chris also did the album artwork for the previous 4 albums. Who did you get to do the new album cover and what input did you have??

Well, Chris and I used to have long, enjoyable discussions over covers – whether lobsters actually had shoulders, what kind of spliff God would smoke, whether the Hog would look nice in a turban with a Danish bacon logo on it… (he did, very. Wanna see him?)

This time I had the notion of a clock counting down to the witching hour of midnight, at which point we will all revert to slimy amoebas. I sent a sketch, slightly adapted for the bipedal mammal species, to a chap called Jon Price, recommended by the record company, and the result was very nice, and quite different to the previous parts. Jon did some nice layouts for the insides, as well. Martin Cox kindly provided most of the pix.
Overall, what are your thoughts on this album, and how does it compare to the previous 4?

Well, I think it’s the best one. It’s more rigidly selected, it’s got brass and ukulele on it, and it begins with a T. I still play it, and my small boy sings ‘Chav’ whenever he can, so these must be indications of an achievement of some sort.

Looking back on the ‘trilogy’ as a whole, is there anything you’d like to change in hindsight?

Only that I should have made the title of the third part (‘God’s on His Lunchbreak, Please Call Back’) begin with a T, like all the rest. This was an enormous oversight on my part, and I can only apologise for my complete lack of insight.

Other than that, I can now see that there are perhaps three or four songs, over the whole cycle, which shouldn’t have been there, for one reason or another. But I’m not going to name them, of course.

What’s your favourite track from all 5 albums (or a top 3 if choosing one is too hard!)

Marvellous question, and I will go for the get-out version and choose three. ‘Best’ is, of course, a moveable feast – it’s a compromise between composition and performance, I reckon. Sometimes there might be a great performance of a less than great composition, and vice-versa. So, considering that material which falls into the centre of the bell-curve:

1 21st Century Blues – fabulous vocal performance, marvellous solos, change of colour for the coda.

2 Love Power – a very funny song from the Mel Brooks film the Producers, which we made our own. And again, it’s the combination of vocal and guitar performance which makes it, for me. Big it up for Andy Reimer!

3 It’s Like It’s Like… From the first album, and a spookily stream-of-consciousness vocal performance which makes the song better than it is, if you see what I mean. That Pelle Almgren. If you are selling an apartment, he will come round and sing about it to potential customers, if I understand the process correctly.

The sleeve notes provide more than a hint that this is the final part of the trilogy. Is that definite? Is Time Gentlemen Please really ringing the last bell??! What’s next for Martin Gordon? Something else with this band or a complete change?
I am going to become a dentist. There are many opportunities in Berlin for enthusiastic dentists, and I already have bought a white coat and a long rubber thing with which I will be able to look into people’s ears.

Oh. Maybe ENT, then, rather than restrict myself to the dental aspect alone. But oral hygiene is so important, don’t you agree? No nasty snaggle-toothed, shady-looking criminal types with hooked noses, just a world of gleaming-chopped, symmetrical beauty – this is my goal. At least in the foreseeable future. I may change my mind later on, I suppose, when the white coat becomes spattered with blood and plaque and…

I think I am going off the idea already… Perhaps Albanian Radio will commission me to compose a musical about Sir Norman Wisdom. Well, you never know, I hear this kind of thing is all the rage in some quarters.

So… there is the Radio Stars gig at the 100 Club in London on January the 22nd. That should occupy me for a moment or two. We will insert a few Mammalian tunes into the proceedings, skills and motivation permitting. We performed Terrible Mess last time out, and never was a tune more aptly named. Or what about jazz, now there’s a thing, with an unplugged trio and brass section…. (drones on, fades out…..zzzzzz).

So there you have it! Don't miss Part Two of this interview, where Martin gives us an insight into each and every track from Time Gentlemen Please.

LINKS:

The Official Martin Gordon website

Martin Gordon on MySpace

Buy Martin Gordon CDs at Amazon!

My previous interview with Martin Gordon (which covers his varied and eventful career from Sparks, Jet, Radio Stars, Rolling Stones, Blue Meanies etc etc right up to his solo work) can be found here and here


Piley

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Podrophenia - Show 7... A Slice of Christmas Podding!

Why not grab a mince pie and join Mondo and me round the open fire for our Yuletide Party Pod! And we've got some special guests along for the ride too, as fellow bloggers Marmite Boy and Coops join in the festive fun.

Listen in on a Christmas Cracker consumer test, talk of disappointing and\or inappropriate gifts, worst festive toons and much more. Oh and there's yet another outing for the feature that just won't die (no matter how hard we try!) Wood-Watch! And in between all that old waffle you'll find 10 Christmas Crackers for you to listen to, and not a turkey in sight!
The sound quality is perhaps a little rougher round the edges than usual, due to the party going on in the background at Mondo Manor, and the fact that 4 of us were sharing 2 microphones! But I hope you enjoy it none the less.

Now here's an extra quiz to keep you quiet... there's 8 celeb messages throughout the podcast, can you identify who all of them are??!!

Finally, a MASSIVE thank you to Paul Oddsock for the amazing artwork that he created especially for this podcast - (do please 'double-click' it, to view in all its glory!) cheers Paul!

Listen Here:


Or Download Here:
Podrophenia 7 - Christmas Podding

Oh and don't forget we're also available via iTunes these days too... gawd knows how or why!

Merry Christmas!

Piley

Friday, 11 December 2009

Bettie Page

Last December I did a quick 'RIP' post on the death of Bettie Page. I mentioned then that I'd been fully intending to do a proper post on her since I started the blog... so I thought that today, the first anniversary of her death, would be a fitting day to finally post my tribute to her.

It's hard now to remember a time before the internet - and information wasn't at your fingertips - but in the 80's you either stumbled on stuff randomly or otherwise remained completely unaware. Regular readers will probably know that I'm something of a comic fan. In the 80's I used to make specials trips to London to visit all the lovely specialist independent comic shops tucked away down many a West End side street (and much like those lovely little independent record shops, they are all but gone now). Comic shops have always had a healthy sideline of other 'miscellaneous' goodies to tempt their punters with... resin models, T-Shirts, trading cards, mugs.... and fanzines. I guess the fanzine is another thing that is just about extinct these days too, the modern day equivalent is now probably a fan web-site.

Anyway, in 1988 on one of my semi-regular visits to Forbidden Planet (this is back in the day when Forbidden Planet was actually a shop worth going in!) I happened to spot a small A5 fanzine titled 'The Betty Pages' (sic). It was issue number 3 of a title dedicated to some pin-up model from days gone by, and I clearly remember being transfixed by the cheesecake photo on the cover of the lady with the most incredible hair! I gave it a quick flick and thought I'd give it a go... little did I know then that it was to be the start of a life-long obsession! I soon managed to track down the first two issues of Greg Theakston's magazine, and put in an order for future issues. I became hooked and intrigued on the incredible story of this lady....

Born in Nashville, Tennessee on the 22nd of April 1923, Bettie Mae Page was brought up in a strict Christian family. Her parents divorced when she was 10, and for a few years, Bettie and her sisters had to live in an orphanage when her father was put in prison for stealing a car. At the age of twenty she married her childhood sweetheart Billy Neal, but they were divorced within four years.

Bettie did a little amature modelling during the 40's, and dreamed of being an actress. In 1945 she went to Hollywood where she had been called for a screen test. The story goes that she was asked to join an executive on the 'casting couch', which she refused, after which she was never given another shot by Hollywood. By 1950 she was living in New York and working as a secretary, but still hoping to get a break as an actress. One day whilst out walking along Coney Island beach, she got chatting to policeman Jerry Tibbs, who was also an keen amature photographer. He asked if she would be interested in modelling for him and she agreed. It was Tibbs who gave her some historic modelling advise too... "wear your hair in bangs" her told her, she did, and Bettie Page was born!
Pretty soon she was modelling for a number of Camera Clubs - on the outside, these were artistic groups of gents practising and honing their hobby of photography.... on the inside these were mostly lecherous men, using a camera as an excuse to get near beautiful young women with few clothes on (apparently, a number of these guys didn't even have film in their cameras!). Some Camera Club shots of Bettie made their way to the desk of Robert Harrison, who published a number of gentleman's 'cheesecake' magazines (with fab titles like Eyefull, Wink, and Titter!). He immediately hired Bettie,and she became a regular favourite in his publications.
In 1952, Bettie started posing for photos and making films for the Klaws' (brother and sister Irving and Paula), after one of the camera club members showed them his photos of her.... The Klaws' had started out selling photographs of Hollywood movies stars, but branched out into cheesecake modelling. However they will always be remembered for their eventual specialism in the fetish underground world of spanking, bondage and sadomasochism (after repeated requests from some of their regular customers).... Looking at Betties' work with them today it all seems very tame and almost innocent (I also love the fact that many of the outfits she wore in the Klaw photo and cine film shoots she actually hand-made especially for the session!), but it must have been incredibly shocking in the day. Irving Klaw was careful never to have any nakedness in any of his work, to ensure that none of it could ever be classed as 'pornographic', but never the less, the FBI hounded him for years. In 1953, Bettie was hired to perform in a burlesque film - Striporama. The film was such an incredible success that the Klaw's soon got in on the act too, with Bettie appearing in another two very similar films titled Varietease and Teaserama.

In 1954, Bettie also started to pose for former model turned photographer Bunny Yeager. Yeager was extremely talented at her job, and captured many of the best shots of Bettie. Yeager sent some of them to Hugh Hefner, who immediately picked Bettie to be 'Playmate of the Month' in the January 1955 issue of Playboy magazine. Page had already become well known by this time, but the Playboy exposure rocketed her fame to another level (winning the coveted 'Pin-Up Girl of the World' title later that year). It was also in 1955 that the FBI finally managed to get Irving Klaw before the Senate Subcommittee on Obscene and Pornographic Materials (despite him not actually breaking any laws). The United States Congress even called on Bettie to testify and explain the photos she appeared in. The court ordered all of Klaws work to be incinerated. Over 80% of his work was burnt, but Klaws sister Paula somehow managed to secretly save some of Bettie's work from the flames.

In 1957, at the age of 34 and at the height of her popularity, Bettie abruptly ended her modeling and disappeared. Some said she had been killed by the mob, whilst others said she became a born-again Christian (some even said she had become a nun) and was now ashamed of her modeling career....

And this is where I came in, because in 1988, Bettie was still missing, presumed by many at this point, dead.

The 60's and 70's had been a quiet time, and Page was all but forgotten. But it would be an unsuspecting comic book that would reignite interest in her once again. In the early 80's, Bettie Page fanatic Dave Stevens released his comic book entitled 'The Rocketeer'. He based the hero's girlfriend 'Betty' completely on Bettie Page, and it sparked an interest. The interest continued to grow, culminating in Greg Theakston starting 'The Betty Pages' fanzine in 1987, and it was this magazine which really started the revival.... and I'm sure the mysterious disappearance all added to the appeal and helped to fuel the cult status that was now growing fast. By the late 80's\early 90's, a number of companies had now picked up on the underground phenomenon and were starting to produce Bettie merchandise - an industry that continue to grow and grow to this day.

Then in 1993 the unthinkable happened! Bettie resurfaced!! She gave a few interviews but was adamant that no photos of her should be taken - she wanted fans to remember her as she was. Nobody can say for sure, but I can't help but think the resurface may in part have been forced on her. A year earlier a 'fan' (Richard Foster) somehow tracked her down and wrote to her. He asked all kinds of questions and Bettie kindly wrote back with a long letter containing all manner of answers. Foster used the details she gave (locations she had been, times etc etc) to start investigating her missing years, and alas he dug up a very sorry story, which he promptly published as "The Real Bettie Page". Bettie was distraught that Foster had published his findings, and must have felt very betrayed that being polite and answering a fan letter directly lead to all her dirty laundry being aired to the world. I think she probably felt as though she had to come out of hiding in order to stand up for herself.

I don't want to dwell too much on the poor misfortunes of Bettie in her 'missing years', but briefly they consisted of 2 more failed marriages (one of which was to her original first husband), various religious work (including working for Billy Graham), running through a motel with a gun preaching about the "retribution of God", paranoia, a breakdown, acute schizophrenia, being declared insane, pulling a knife on ex-husband Harry Lear and finally being arrested for the attempted murder of her landlady.... all interspersed with several stays in asylums and hospitals... the last of which was for almost ten years. Bettie disputed much of Fosters findings, but his evidence (including police 'mug-shots') is pretty convincing.

But by the 90's Bettie was finally free of the demons within, and felt strong enough to face the world once more... and boy what a surprise she got! She had absolutely no idea of the resurgence in her modelling work that had been going on for the last 12-15 years. It must be quite a revelation to discover you are a genuine underground superstar! It soon became clear that everyone except herself was making a lot of money out of her images, so she signed up with an agent to look after her interests.... unfortunately he ripped her off too, and she didn't receive a penny for the three years she was on his books. After that she went straight to the top, the most legendary agents in America - Curtis Management Group (who are still in control of the images of icons such as Marilyn Monroe and James Dean).

Despite being in her 70's and 80's, Bettie got involved in a number of projects over the next decade, she co-wrote her autobiography - Bettie Page: The Life of a Pin-up Legend (although unsurprisingly, much of the 'missing years' remained as such), helped with the creation of a number of TV programmes and two films about her, got involved with the creation of officially licenced products, made DVD commentaries for re-releases of her surviving 8mm and 16mm film reels, did countless interviews, and as I mentioned in my RIP post - sold signed 8x10 photographs to her fans. The signed pictures turned out to be a short lived affair. Apparently it was taking her quite some time to sign her name, and the idea soon came to an end. I've no idea how much they originally intended to sell these items for, but I'm fairly sure that because there were so few of them, the price went even higher. I decided to go for one, safe in the knowledge that it really wasn't worth the money they were asking, and convinced I'd regret it... but I never have. In fact, as the years go by I become more and more grateful that I took that reckless plunge! Sure e-Bay often lists a signed Bettie picture (for less than I paid too), but I have little confidence that they are genuine. The fact she signed so few is at odds with the regularity that they still continue to appear. I am safe in the knowledge that mine is 100% legit - complete with all sorts of documentation and certification from her agent. Here's a picture of my signed Bettie photo:



In 2003, she finally allowed a couple of photos of herself to be taken and published! Even at the age of 80 it was still unmistakably Bettie... and unsurprisingly, she was still beautiful.


2003 was also the year I finally had my Bettie tattoo done! Having wanted one since the mid 90's I decided it probably wasn't a passing fad and went ahead (4 hours in one sitting... ouch!). Oddly the picture I had done ended up being the very same one that I chose 8 years previously!


By 2004 Bettie had all but withdraw from her new found limelight... the interviews ceased, and the involvement in upcoming ideas stopped. I don't know why for sure, but I'm guessing the day to day challenges of being in her 80's was probably more than enough for her to be getting on with.


In early December 2008 she had a heart attack and went into a coma. She died at the age of 85 on 11th December 2008, after her family allowed her life support machine to be switched off.


To me, Bettie will always be the ultimate pin-up girl, and I've been infatuated with her for over 20 years. She was such a natural in front of the camera, and could switch from the fresh faced 'girl next door' look, to the bitch from hell in the click of the shutter.


How my Bettie tattoo is looking today... (quite literally!):

Piley

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Christmas Lights

Personally, I've always found those houses lit up by a million light bulbs at Christmas to be tacky. And that theory that the more light bulbs you add, and the more Santa's and reindeer you can perch on the roof the better it looks... is also unfounded. The truth is actually quite simple - the more you add the more chavy it becomes!!

Still, I reckon I'm only 2 years away (at most) before our son starts requesting that Piley Towers becomes a rival to the Blackpool illuminations... So I'd better start working on my excuses. This picture came through by e-mail during the week... But I can't see Piley Junior buying it as a compromise!

Piley

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The Specials - Live Review

The Specials Live at The Cliffs Pavilion, 18th November 2009

As the dearly departed comedy legend Malcolm Hardee used to say "you only play the Cliffs Pavilion in Southend twice in your career. Once on the way up, and once on the way down..... it's good to be back". The Specials aren't quite 'on the way down' of course, but it is indeed almost 30 years since they last played here. I know that I was still at school when it took place, and everyone in class was desperate to go. But with a strict over 18's policy, it remained a dream for us all. But as they say, everything comes to he who waits, and I'm definitely over 18 now (this gig took place just a few days before my 43rd birthday!), and i'm finally getting to see them.
Y'know, there's nothing like a nice relaxed atmosphere in which to enjoy your evening out.... and this was indeed, nothing like it. The place is (unsurprisingly) full of skinheads, 'rude boys' and general 40-50 year old 'geezers'. There's the great smell of testosterone in the air, and a lovely oppressive overtone of violence. This is complimented beautifully by huge amounts of police strategically placed throughout the venue (I've been coming to this venue since I was a child, and NEVER have I witnessed police attendance at a show here)... They are everywhere... in the foyer, in the bar, in the auditorium, even upstairs in the seats.
I've made the schoolboy error of turning up with hair, and it genuinely seems to have marked me as an outsider! Nope, it really isn't me being paranoid, I really am getting 'bogged out' by numerous people as I walk through the bar in the vain hope of grabbing a beer (I don't manage to get one, by the way). Never have I been so relieved to have 'squares' tickets... upstairs in the balcony (actually it's all I could get, but boy am I glad!), where I can at last escape the knuckle draggers for a bit. Looking over the balcony, the downstairs is more packed than I've ever seen a stand up gig at this venue. You know how packed and squashed it is at the front? Well literally, that's what it's like all the way back. I later find out that some arse of a tout has acquired (I use that word, but in all honestly, I'm guessing the word 'stolen' would probably fit the bill) a load of venue wristbands (the ones you have to exchange your ticket for, and ensures you can pop out to the toilet and get back) and has been selling them for a fiver a pop outside. Looking down at this ridiculously packed crowd, I'm assuming he acquired a fair few of em.

It certainly has all the ingredients and impending doom of 'one of those nights', but as it turns out, The Specials are very impressive indeed. Reunion gigs are a risky business these days. Everybody's at it, but it can be a cheesy, sad and soul destroying experience. The thought of watching a bloated Spandau Ballet going through the motions fills me with dread, yet the revival of Iggy and the Stooges really excited me. But what's the difference? well, thinking about it, maybe Spandau weren't really all that cool to start with, and I can't say that I'd have been all that fussed about seeing them live during their 'glory days'. But The Specials certainly seem to be in the 'Iggy' category tonight. They have all aged well, and seem to be genuinely enthusiastic about what they are doing (rather than going through the motions for a big fat cheque). They ooze charisma and have incredible stage presence. They look very comfortable and extremely cool as they completely take over the stage. There really is so much going on, and so much to watch, I actually find myself struggling where best to focus my attention at times. The quality of the musicianship on display is frankly incredible, and each song sounds completely true and faithful to the versions you know and love.... and unlike Marc Almond the other week, the Specials make full use of their brass section, and it sounds amazing!
There is none of that 'saving all the good bits to the end' business either, as the set is peppered with classics throughout.... Gangsters was thrown in within the first 10 or 15 minutes, and was soon followed by Monkey Man, Rat Race, Stereotypes, A Message To You Rudy, Nite Klub, Too Much Too Young and others. By the time the encore came it was only really Ghost Town that was still obviously missing - which was duly performed.

An absolutely brilliant show.... but would I go again? I was lucky to be up in the gods tonight, and being out of the majority of the crowd allowed me to actually enjoy the show. I'd imagine I would have been far too preoccupied with watching (and attempting to avoid) various 'characters' had I been downstairs, and it would have turned into the gig from hell (for me anyway). I've nothing but praise for the band and their performance tonight, but on the strength of tonight's crowd - no, I wouldn't go again... I'm glad I finally got to see them, but I'll quit while I'm ahead (and alive) ta very much!

Piley